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What education do I need for a job in emergency management?

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Earning a degree in emergency management can help find a job in the field, but some emergency management careers, particularly at the entry level, require just a high school diploma. Jobs in other industries might call for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in public health or homeland security.

“Depends on where you’re at and what you’re doing,” said Sarah K. Miller, MPA, CEM, Emergency Management Professional and Crisis Manager. “You will find a lot of people in the field who came from other jobs, who don’t have formal education in emergency management. And yet now we’re at a point in this field where people are going to school to learn how to do these things.”

In this Article

Emergency management degree overview

Associate degrees for emergency management jobs are fairly common. For many people, this field is attractive because it’s relatively easy to get a job without the need to earn a bachelor’s or graduate-level degree. Many technical schools offer associate degrees that put you in a position to get an entry-level emergency management job.

That said, a bachelor’s degree in emergency management or a related field (such as public administration or public safety) is the minimum requirement for most “advanced” emergency management jobs, especially for those in government and private industry positions such as Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrators, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists, and Nuclear Emergency Planners.

Although some employees in this field might return to school for a master’s or doctoral program, students should take their time before making this decision. It’s important to understand that while jobs do exist in emergency management requiring a master’s or doctoral degree, there are relatively few. Additionally, earning such an advanced degree might not make you a more competitive candidate than someone with an undergraduate degree and professional experience. 

“Don’t rush to get higher levels of education. If you get an associates or bachelor’s degree, that’s fantastic. Now go get a job,” Miller said.

If you reach the master’s level, Miller explains, you should be specializing. And you won’t know what to specialize in until you’ve tried some things out.

“If you pick the wrong master’s degree,” she said, “you’re going to be miserable and broke and not know what it is you really wanted to do.”


Associate degrees

Associate degrees can be a great place to start for prospective emergency managers. They typically take two years to earn, and can open doors to entry-level careers in the field. Credits earned during your studies might be transferable to a bachelor’s program should you decide to pursue that later in your career. Applicable associate-level degrees include:


Concentration: Emergency Management

What you’ll study: An associate degree in emergency management teaches you the technical and administrative skills needed for entry-level emergency management careers. You may take a combination of classroom and laboratory courses. This program benefits students seeking foundational knowledge in emergency management or existing professionals in similar fields that wish to supplement their emergency management knowledge.

Classes you’ll take: Program-specific classes may include Hazardous Materials Awareness, Facility Security, Developing Community Resources, Mass Fatalities Incident Response, and Emergency Planning. 

Available careers: You will be qualified to work as an emergency manager at places such as government agencies, private corporations, and educational or healthcare institutions. 


Concentration: Homeland Security Emergency Management

What you’ll study: An associate degree in homeland security educates students on the principals of the Department of Homeland Security. Students may learn about terrorism, risk management and mitigation, tactical emergency response and more.

Classes you’ll take: Classes often include courses like Criminal Justice, Domestic and International Terrorism, and Organizational Integration and Management. 

Available careers: You might find a job with FEMA or with the U.S. Customs/Border Patrol.


Concentration: Public Administration 

What you’ll study: An associate degree in public administration teaches students a variety of skills, which may include communication, budgeting, research and business management. These skills and more are essential to be successful working at nonprofits or government agencies.

Classes you’ll take: Your courses may include Public Relations for the Public Sector, Budgeting in the Public Sector, and Municipal Management. 

Available careers: Job prospects include working as an emergency manager or planner in the public sector.


Bachelor’s degrees

Bachelor’s degrees can open doors to more advanced careers in emergency management. They might also give degree holders the ability to get managerial positions. It generally takes four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Applicable bachelor-level degrees include:


Major: Emergency Management

What you’ll study: A bachelor’s degree in emergency management teaches you to coordinate emergency personnel and respond appropriately to disasters and other emergencies. It prepares students for a leadership position in emergency management.

Classes you’ll take: Program-specific classes may include Hazardous Materials Awareness, Facility Security, Developing Community Resources, Mass Fatalities Incident Response, and Emergency Planning. 

Available careers: You will be qualified to work as an emergency manager at places such as government agencies, private corporations, and educational or healthcare institutions. 


Major: Homeland Security Emergency Management

What you’ll study: A bachelor’s degree in homeland security emergency management teaches the knowledge and skills you need to make real-world decisions in times of disaster. Students learn about the various types of internal, external and natural threats to our nation’s security and how to effectively respond to them.

Classes you’ll take: Classes often include courses like Applied Constitutional Issues, Emergency Planning and Response, and Introduction to Cybercrime. 

Available careers: You will be qualified for jobs at every level of government, or may find work with a private company or nonprofit. 


Major: Business  

What you’ll study: A business degree provides an overview of many topics, including marketing, finance, and administration. Student often have the option to earn a business degree with a concentration in one of these or other areas.

Classes you’ll take: Business Law, Human Resource Management, and Intro to Economics are a sampling of the courses involved in a business degree.

Available careers: A business degree will allow you to find emergency management jobs with private sector companies.


Major: Public Health

What you’ll study: This degree teaches students about population-wide health issues and how we respond to them. It covers things like health sciences and analytical methods, providing the knowledge you need to help protect the well being of communities.

Classes you’ll take: Classes may include Epidemiology, Global Health, and Research Methods.

Available careers: A public health bachelor’s degree qualifies you to work in emergency management jobs in a healthcare setting, such as Hospital Emergency Preparedness Administrator.


Major: Occupational Health and Safety

What you’ll study: An occupational health and safety degree teaches students the technical skills to promote safety and protect workers in a variety of work environments. They will learn how to identify and mitigate safety hazards, conduct inspections and curate reports related to workplace safety.

Classes you’ll take: Classes may include Legal Aspects of Health and Safety, Construction Safety, Toxicology, Industrial Hygiene, and Industrial Ergonomics. 

Available careers: You may find work as a Occupational Health and Safety Specialist or Certified Occupational Safety Specialist. 


Master’s degrees

Two of the most common master’s level programs in this field are emergency management and public administration. 


Concentration: Emergency Management 

What you’ll study: A master’s in emergency management teaches students to create and implement emergency response plans in a high leadership position. You will learn how to analyze emergency response procedures and implement creative solutions for many types of disasters. Institutions often lump this degree together with Homeland Security. 

Classes you’ll take: Coursework may include Hazard Mitigation Planning, Humanitarian Logistics, Public Health, Risk Perception Awareness, and Weapons of Mass Destruction and Terrorism. 

Available careers: You will be qualified to work for places such as government agencies, hospitals, or educational institutions in leadership positions. 


Concentration: Public Administration 

What you’ll study: A master’s in public administration will expand students’ expertise about how the government works to maintain communities, helping you become an effective leader in solving modern public problems. It addresses public administration theory and analysis, and their practical application.

Classes you’ll take: You will likely take classes such as Foundations of Policy Analysis, Managing Human Capital Assets, and Organizational Analysis. 

Available careers: People with a master’s of public administration commonly work in leadership roles in emergency services, law enforcement, or other government offices or programs.


Doctoral degrees

While doctoral degrees are less common for emergency management, they may be a good fit if you know where you want to specialize, or if you want to teach. Doctorates typically take two years to earn once a student has already earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Applicable doctorates include:


Concentration: Emergency Management 

What you’ll study: Doctoral level emergency management degrees, such as a PhD in emergency management, give students a mastery of administration and policy as well as research methods and statistics. Students will be well-prepared for a high level position or to teach.

Classes you’ll take: You will take courses such as Disaster Management Principles and Practice, Systems Thinking and Applications in Emergency Management, Risk Communication, Nonprofit Disaster Management; and Crisis Leadership and Management. 

Available careers: You will be qualified to work with a disaster relief organization or emergency management agency in a leadership position. 


Concentration: Civil Security—Leadership, Management, and Policy

What you’ll study: This degree gives an in-depth education on topics like national security, cybersecurity, homeland security, criminal justice, and crisis communication. It prepares students for an executive-level security position and how to be an effective leader in such.

Classes you’ll take: Classes often taken in this degree include Current Issues in Civil Security Leadership, Management, and Policy; Data Analysis for Civil Security Leadership, Management, and Policy; and Civil Security Budget Development and Implementation. 

Available careers: You can become a post-secondary educator, or find work in government, business, or educational organizations at a high level.

What degree do I need to work for OSHA or FEMA?

Miller explains that OSHA and FEMA have jobs for all levels of education and experiences. Federal agencies like FEMA have reservist programs, where they hire people who are on call to do specific work. Sometimes those jobs require less experience. 

If you’re interested in a more advanced position at one of these organizations, it will be helpful to have a disaster management or homeland security and emergency management degree. Other degrees that may prepare someone for a job with OSHA or FEMA include engineering, communications, or hurricane program manager. 


hailey hudson

Written and reported by:

Hailey Hudson

Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

Sarah K. Miller, MPA, CEM

Emergency Management Professional and Crisis Manager